After reminding myself the most beloved and most hated movies about rock stars that I have ever watched, finally I decided to watch The Runaways – a silver screen debut by the amazing director known for her brilliant photography and artwork in the field of music videos.
Yes, Floria Sigismondi directed her first movie and personally, I think it’s not a coincidence that it’s basically the type of the movie that we already know pretty well – not a musical, not a film biography but something in between. A genre which, in its own, has many great examples such as The Doors by Oliver Stone, Walk the Line by James Mangold or I’m Not There by Todd Haynes. When I heard of the movie by Sigismondi, I was really excited to see it since I value her work a great deal. She’s done most thought provoking, most aesthetically thrillilng videos ever for such different artists as Marilyn Manson, Christina Aguillera, Sigur Rós, Page & Plant etc. The features of her work which are most easy to notice are a little “dusty”, grey colors (she’s a photographer as well), jittery camera and unnatural movements of the people she depicts – they move more like mannequins or puppets which on its own is fascinating. In fact Sigismondi is an Italian-born, raised Canadian daughter of a couple who worked for an opera house, so she’s absolutely familiar with music and with musical performance.
The second point was The Runaways itself. I’m not a huge fan of the band, although many believe it’s the first rock girlsband in history, still… the turn of 1970’s and 1980’s is, in my own belief, a pretty mediocre part of the history of popular music, with only a few classical examples being outstanding (but my taste revolves here mainly around prog rock and a few punk bands cause, even though it has some amazing examples, I cannot really consider new wave being rock). I do love Joan Jett though and, frankly, I watched this movie mainly for the character of Jett and for Sigismondi.
I was surprised. It’s not a major movie which will become part of the film history. But I have seen so many bad movies about musicians and/or specific phenomena in the history of popular music, that I had full right to be afraid of what would this movie be like. I was content. Not necessarily amazed but very, very content with what I got. The story is not especially thrilling. But it’s told in a correct way, it tells the story of the band as well as the story of individual members of the band, it shows the atmosphere around being a rock star, the damage one is suffering when becoming a rock star, and all these, already iconic, issues such as the complex and difficult relationship between a performer – his or her audience – and publicity. Nothing new, you can say. Sure. But Sigismondi, not being really creative, is also not disappointing. It’s not a movie that gets you tired and frustrated the first 10 minutes just because it tries to be “different” than anything else and, hence, becomes completely messed and impossible to understand.
Three most important things for me, however, are: Sigismondi’s amazing photography (the movie is just aesthetically beautiful!), the character of Joan Jett (played by the Twilight saga star Kristen Stewart) and the somehow subversive, ambivalent part of the movie – about being a teenager, being a girl in a man’s world, being perhaps sexually different, a lesbian or a bisexual (Sigismondi is a happily married lesbian herself).
These are the parts of the movie I enjoyed most. Mainly because I completely hate all the movies dealing with the difficult matter of puberty, teenage sexuality and the moment when a teenage girl realizes she’s a woman in a… let’s say… somewhat male world. 90% of the movies dealing with the subject end up either being sermon on the disadvantages of doing drugs and having casual, premarital sex; or they are emo shit-stories which are popular at the moment with all these children whining about being depressed, unhappy and rioting against the whole world in their outfits I cannot even afford living in the less privileged part of the world, huh…
Well. Sigismondi’s movie is not a sermon nor it is emo crap. She’s consequent in revealing identity problems, complicated relations with family and friends, difficulties with growing up and transforming into an adult, mature human being. And, although it’s not a psychological movie, I enjoyed this part a lot.
Joan Jett is a character that is particularly interesting for me since… awww, let’s be honest, she’s the only true musician out of the whole band (well, ok, Lita Ford is also great but she never became a major rock star in the sense Jett did). I loved the way Sigismondi portrayed her. She’s most confident of the whole band, most self-conscious and, also, most determined. She knows that music is her only chance to get away from poverty, broken family, all the problems of a low class environment. And, what I think Stewart does best, is the transformation from a teenage, rioting, white trash girl to a confident artist that is aware of what she is doing and what is she trying to reach.
Musically… well. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Runaways so I won’t bore you with whining about how Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning do a good job or a bad job singing the parts of Jett and Currie. The girls are not so bad but I wouldn’t be interested in buing the soundtrack. First of all, it lacks the original music composed by Lilian Berlin (a musician and Sigismondi’s partner), which – frankly – is just amazing! Secondly, when it comes to the Runaways… well… it’s just not my kind of music (although I’m into rock and I love Joan Jett) but personally… oh well… I guess the soundtrack to The Velvet Goldmine was much more interesting also in the terms of not only collecting the best hits of the era but also recording new songs by a non-existing band that pretended to be another band (however messed, postmodern and post-Baudrillardesque it may sound, LOL).
All in all, I was positively surprised with The Runaways. And I do hope Sigismondi will continue making movies, probably not only movies about musicians and music, although… deep down I have this small, tiny hope she will create something astonishing about one of the great rock stars (and truly, there are many of them) but using more of the dark atmosphere that is so typical of her amazing videos.